Dover businesses say Government ‘must do more’ to solve port travel chaos

Holiday getaway Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Business owners in Dover say traffic chaos caused by delays at the port are business as usual – but the authorities need to do more to prevent gridlock.

The summer getaway saw nearly 142,000 people travel through the port over the weekend, and a combination of customs delays and collisions left both holidaymakers and lorry drivers queueing for hours.

Freight and holiday traffic trying to find a way through to the Kent port on Friday flooded local roads, causing gridlock and disruption for locals compounded by a crash between a lorry and a van on the M20.

There are fears there could be a repeat of the gridlock next weekend as more holidaymakers head to Europe during the school summer break.

Sarah Manall runs a chandlers merchants that has been a feature in Dover since 1860. She said: "We're a poor seaside town, and we need to get visitors to us. This is giving Dover an incredibly bad name.

"We've got lovely new cafes, bars and restaurants and a marine - we need to get people here.

"On Friday we had very few customers. We're very lucky we have been established for a long time, and there were some visitors in the marina, and they came across to us.

"But we saw very few people.

John Angell, who owns a jewellers on the town’s Biggin Street, says delays at the port cause gridlock in the town two or three times a year – but the Government needs to do more to prevent it from happening again.

John Angell Credit: PA

Mr Angell, who is also chair of the Dover Town Team, said: “This isn’t unusual, we normally see this happen two or three times per year, I have been in business for nearly 50 years and we have seen it every year. This has been going on for so long that we just get used to working through the situation.

“Four of our staff live in walking distance so we could get in, but our customers couldn’t get in – the town was very quiet.

“It does no good for the town, it’s bad publicity and for the cafes and restaurants they lose a good two or three days of trade over the weekend.

“The mood of local businesses is frustration at the fact this happens so regularly, but it’s something we have to learn to live with. It’s not a local problem, it’s an international problem, and the Government has to talk to the French to sort it out.

“We are in the hands of the French. If they don’t man the customs or immigration points during the busiest weekend of the year it doesn’t take long for delays to back up.

“The French only initially put two operatives on during the busiest weekend of the year, but Brexit is a problem because pre-Brexit you were just waved through when crossing the Channel, but now it’s an external EU border the French have to work to rule.

“These rules slow the time it takes to process people and at times like this when the port is working at maximum capacity, any delay you see just magnifies.”

Meanwhile the Dover branch of Action Carpets had to open two hours late on Friday because the staff member set to open the store got stuck in traffic – and it was up to another staff member with a motorcycle to weave through the gridlock and open up.

Gale Dixon, manager of the Dover branch, said on Monday she was still feeling the effect of the traffic chaos as she had not seen a single customer in the shop all day.

She also questioned whether authorities such as the police could do more to ensure port-bound traffic did not end up blocking local roads.

Gale Dixon Credit: PA

She explained: “This and the Folkestone branch have been very, very quiet as people have been staying away, even now. We just have to say to customers ‘traffic allowing’ as we give them a time for their carpet fitting, but obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen.

“Every time there’s problems with traffic at the port they let the lorries go through the town – why do they let them through? It gridlocks everything. This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.

“It has affected my business because people are still staying away. Last time this happened I didn’t open the shop at all because the town was gridlocked so there wasn’t any point opening the shop.

“Let’s hope if they’re thinking it will happen again this weekend they have somewhere to put all the lorries or that people change their minds and don’t come that day.”